January 17, 2019

Times-Georgian examines ‘The Huzzie Factor’

Courtesy of Mason Wittner and the Times-Georgian

(Franklin, GA) — Alijah Huzzie had big shoes to fill.

When senior quarterback Emory Jones completed his high school career and enrolled at the University of Florida in January, the Heard County High School football team was faced with the unpleasant task of replacing the four-year starter who brought the club within one game of a state championship berth in 2017.

But Huzzie took over the reins this season and not only led the Braves back to the Class AA state semifinals, but helped them take down Fitzgerald last Friday night to punch a ticket to their first state championship game in program history.

The senior had proven to be a major contributor on the defensive side of the ball throughout his first three years in a Brave uniform, but was primarily used as a receiver on offense outside of some emergency fill-in roles for Jones when the Division I recruit went down with an injury early in his career.

Despite Huzzie not taking many snaps under center as a starter early on in his career, Heard County head coach Tim Barron could already tell that he was a special player.

“We felt like Huzzie would’ve started at QB as a sophomore for a lot of people across the state of Georgia,” Barron said.

He continued on about the talent he saw from Huzzie leading up to this season.

“We always knew that Huzzie was a really good football player, a really good quarterback. And we always felt comfortable playing him on defense,” Barron said. “The biggest difference with Huzzie this year is that when he came in, even though we knew he was going to be really good, he was really inexperienced because he played three years behind a really talented football player. Each week he’s gotten a little bit better.”

Among the challenges for the Braves in making the transition after Jones was deciding how to utilize the quarterback position.

Jones excelled at attacking opposing defenses with both his arm and his legs. But Barron noted that he was more hesitant to allow Huzzie to serve as a dual-threat quarterback early on in year in fear of losing him to injury.

“If you go back and you look, you’ll see that even in the Hapeville Charter and Rockmart games, he wasn’t going to run the ball very often. If he did, it was because something broke down in the pocket and he had to. Because the drop-off between our No. 1 (quarterback) and No. 2 is way more significant this year than it was when Emory was here,” Barron said.

Tiny freshman Alijah Huzzie carries the ball versus Fitzgerald in the 2015 State Playoffs (Photo: Rodney East)

However, Huzzie became a threat on the ground as his senior campaign unfolded. Through 14 games, he’s accumulated 674 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

Furthermore, his ground game helped lift the Braves over the Purple Hurricanes last Friday, as he found the end zone on runs of five yards and 73 yards, respectively.

As for the issue of experience, Huzzie has garnered an abundance of it through both success and hardship this season.

After starting the season 1-2, Heard County reeled off four wins in a row to set up a monumental match against rival Callaway at Staples Stadium on Oct. 19.

The stakes were high, because the winner of the game would claim sole possession of first place in Region 5-AA.

Huzzie didn’t play his best game. He twice fumbled into the back of the end zone on would-be touchdown runs, each resulting in crushing touchbacks as Callaway built up a 10-0 lead.

But the first-year starting signal-caller responded with the fortitude of a veteran.

He orchestrated a pair of fourth-quarter scoring drives — the second of which ended with a 27-yard strike to senior Quincy Shephered in the back of the end zone with two seconds left in the game — to lead Heard County to the thrilling 13-10 victory.

Following the game, Barron lauded Huzzie’s ability to overcome adversity and thrive when it mattered most.

“They call it, ‘The Huzzie Factor.’ He’s just got this gene where it’s like no moment is ever too big for him,” Barron said. “And you can’t teach that. You can’t coach that. He’s just got it in his heart somewhere.”

As the season progressed and the Braves continued to roll, Huzzie continued to command the offense while focusing on his personal growth as both an athlete and a teammate.

“I felt like I grew better as a player and as a leader just getting experience and filling big shoes,” Huzzie said. “I feel like I kind of took off with it a little bit.”

Huzzie took another step forward in the playoffs, breaking Jones’ school record for single-season passing touchdowns in the Braves’ 18-3 victory over Dublin in the third round. For the season, he’s gone 74-for-139 with 1,490 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and three interceptions.

With confidence that seems to flourish on a weekly basis, Huzzie has made a seamless transition into calling the shots for the Braves’ offense. It’s apparent that he’s comfortably fit into the shoes that were left for him to fill.

“Now he’s got 14 games under his belt, or 15 if you count the scrimmage. He is experienced,” Barron said. “To see that growth in him throughout the year has been really special.”

Huzzie will look to end his career on the highest note possible when the Braves travel to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta this Wednesday, Dec. 12, for a rematch with Rockmart in the Class AA state championship at 1:00 PM.

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